“The enemy is the inner me“, said Nick Miller, eyes widened in recognition, in s2e7 of the TV show New Girl. “To thine own self be true”, wrote Shakespeare in Hamlet. Somewhere between these two cultural landmarks, I stand, acknowledging but not self-deprecating about the fact that despite my modestly well-travelled palate and my published cookbook and my food writing indiction and that time I was invited to two degustations in one week, the food expression I spiritually connect with, yearn for, and constantly seek to recreate most…is pink icing with hundreds and thousands sprinkles.
I mean, I never claimed to be sophisticated – nor could I, you can practically hear the audience laughing uproariously at this notion – but it’s hard to explain my love of this combination. Experienced in the wild, the icing is at best artificially flavoured with fake raspberry but is usually just a vague, generic sugar paste, and speaking of vague, the sprinkles offer absolutely nothing taste-wise and barely anything texture-wise once they’ve softened into the frosting bed clinging them to the baked good beneath. But together? Somehow – transcendent! Immediate happiness! Is it mere nostalgia? My rambunctious undisciplined inner child? A shallow and superficial prioritisation of aesthetics?
Well, whatever it is, pink icing and sprinkles is still cute, and no amount of psychoanalysis can take that away. And while this recipe is a kind of vegan recreation of the rainbow-studded Hundreds and Thousands biscuits that I grew up dazzled by, it’s also – for those of you not so preternaturally wedded to the aesthetic as me – a useful and reliable vegan cut-out cookie recipe for any occasion or frosting direction, limited only by your collection of cookie cutters. Christmas is the obvious one – in which case I might add some cinnamon and ginger to the dough – but any day of the week could, indeed, should, be cheered by a novelty-shaped, garishly iced biscuit.
And it’s not just about looks. These biscuits are delicious – of course! – I would never lead you up an ambiguous path – with the golden syrup offering a bordering-on-gingerbread intenseness, despite not a lick of ginger being present, and a softly dense texture. Fake raspberry flavouring is, to me, the white truffle of the bottled essences, instantly sending you to a time when fifty cents could get you the world at the corner bakery, and contained in the thin layer of simple frosting – just icing sugar and water, set to a firm, smooth surface – it provides a kind of off-kilter yet entirely welcome contrast to the more traditional-tasting biscuit beneath. The cookie dough itself is well-behaved – a little stirring brings it together, and it rolls and re-rolls obligingly, so long as you keep it chilled.
We’re 74 days into lockdown now (and yes, I’m going to bring it up every time because there’s nothing else to bring up!) and, I don’t want to overstate their abilities or anything, but looking at these biscuits, like a pixelated rainbow scattered across a pink skyline, makes me feel at least momentarily peaceful – to say nothing of the pure joy I feel upon eating them.
Vegan Hundreds and Thousands Biscuits [or, vegan cut-out cookies]
A versatile, easy, and delicious vegan cut-out cookie – make it pink with rainbow sprinkles or use whichever cutters and colours you like. The simple sugar-and-water icing sets firm like royal icing without any of the hassle. As always, the recipe is very simple, I just don’t know how to write short succinct instructions. Recipe by myself.
- 3 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 cup sugar
- a pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup neutral oil, eg rice bran
- 1/2 cup golden syrup (see notes)
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup soy milk, oat milk, or similar
1: Place the flour in a mixing bowl and sieve in the baking powder and baking soda. Add the sugar and salt, then stir to combine.
2: Make a well in the centre and pour in the oil, followed by the golden syrup (going in this order means the syrup should slide cleanly out of the oiled cup measure) and the milk, adding the smaller quantity at first in case you don’t need it all. Stir, and then push together with your hands, to form a ball of dough that is cohesive without being sticky. If it’s too dry and clumpy, add some more milk, if it’s too sticky, add a little more flour. Cover the bowl and place it in the fridge for ten minutes, and turn the oven to 190C/375F.
3: Roll out your dough on a sheet of baking paper – you can use another sheet of baking paper between the dough and the rolling pin if you like but this dough is very well-behaved and shouldn’t stick to the roller. To help with this, it’s best to roll out the dough in small portions, so the remaining dough can stay chilled in the fridge. Cut out shapes using your chosen cookie cutter, and use a spatula or lifter-prodder type kitchen implement to transfer them to a baking paper-lined cookie tray/baking sheet.
4: Re-roll and cut until you have enough biscuits to fill the tray, return any unused dough to the fridge and bake the cookies for precisely eight minutes, positioned in the middle of the oven, if you want them soft-ish and chewy, and precisely ten minutes – no more! – if you want them crisp and snappish. As someone who frequently loses track of time and forgets what they’re doing in the middle of doing it, you understand that I don’t give you these instructions lightly.
5: Remove the cookies to a cooling tray and then continue rolling, cutting, and baking the remaining dough until it’s all finished. Allow the cookies to cool completely before icing.
- 2 and 3/4 cups icing sugar
- 2-3 tablespoons water
- 1/2 teaspoon raspberry flavour/essence
- a few drops pink food colouring
- hundreds and thousands sprinkles
6: Stir the water into the icing sugar a little at a time – bearing in mind that the raspberry essence will add extra liquid – I found two tablespoons + one teaspoon of water gave me a thick but spreadable icing. Add the raspberry flavouring, then use a toothpick to transfer dots of pink food colouring from the bottle into the bowl of icing, stirring and adding more until it’s the right pink for you. (I mean, you can just pour the food colouring into the icing but that way is fraught with danger.)
7: Spread the icing in a thin layer on each cooled biscuit with a flat-sided knife, dipping the blade in water if need be to help smooth it – and then sprinkle the biscuits with the hundreds and thousands. Allow to cool until the icing has firmed then store the biscuits in an airtight container in the fridge.
Makes – depending on the size of your cutter and how much cookie dough you eat – around 40 biscuits.
- If you’re in America and can’t get golden syrup then it’s my understanding that light corn syrup is the usual substitute – I wouldn’t use maple (too thin) or agave (too sweet) but if you can find golden syrup or treacle somewhere then stock up because it’s a singularly delicious and useful ingredient.
- If you’re making these cookies for a non pink-rainbow-sprinkle context then I would still add a half-teaspoon flavoured essence in place of the raspberry – perhaps vanilla, or almond, depending on your audience and the occasion. Also bear in mind that using more flavouring or food colouring may require extra icing sugar to get the texture/thickness right.
Bluer Than Blue by Lil Hardin Armstrong; an accomplished composer, jazz musician, and singer, she was also the wife and collaborator of Louis Armstrong for several years. I’m so glad recordings like this one – where she sings her own composition in 1937 – exist.
The Man That Got Away by Judy Garland from her iconic Carnegie Hall concert – we listened to this album last night and it’s just – I can hardly even speak about it! The applause alone makes me cry!
Blue Banisters by Lana Del Rey – while not as instantly arresting as, say, Mariners Apartment Complex, this song lingers and haunts you in slow motion and it was stupid of me to imagine it wouldn’t affect me!
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